Lando Norris aimed a gentle dig at George Russell after finishing on the podium at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, joking that he had the “ninth or tenth” fastest car.
After spinning at Acque Minerali in qualifying, the Briton started the sprint race P3 and came home fifth on Saturday, before taking advantage of an awful day for Ferrari to get onto the podium in Imola behind race winner Max Verstappen and his team-mate Sergio Perez.
He was clear of the pace of George Russell and Sir Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes cars, and had the beating of Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, exemplifying the remarkable improvements McLaren have made since their abysmal opening race in Bahrain where they failed to score points.
Russell and Hamilton have both been on hand to claim a podium this year after Red Bull’s reliability troubles but, after his P3 in Australia, the 24-year-old maintained that the Silver Arrows are a long way off the pace.
“I’d love to say we’ve made a lot of progress but I think we’ve got to look at the lap times and we haven’t closed the gap at all to these guys,” said Russell.
“We know we’ve got a lot of work to do but I have faith that we can get there. We know the potential is in the car. And we’ve got a lot of work to do to extract that performance.
“It won’t happen overnight; it won’t happen in the next race, but I do think in time we will get there. So, for the time being, if we keep picking up these results, it’s keeping us in the mix.”
This time, it was Norris’s turn to gobble up the points when Ferrari endured a tough day at the office, and he joked while sat with Verstappen and Perez that he had lugged an egregiously slow McLaren car onto the rostrum.
“Hmmm… I mean, if I want to be like George, I’ll say I had like the seventh fastest car!” he quipped in the press conference.
“You should say it’s all the driver, mate! All the driver!” replied Verstappen.
“It is!” Norris added.
Verstappen joked that Norris had “the worst car,” to which the Briton responded: “Yeah, we’re ninth or tenth – but my driving this weekend has been pretty amazing!”
On the face of it, one may perceive that Mercedes had a horrific day in Imola, but Russell managed to bring his car home for fourth while Hamilton patently had the pace to achieve higher than P13, but the layout of the circuit in Bologna is not conducive to an abundance of overtaking opportunities.
As such, Norris does not necessarily agree that McLaren are the third quickest team but, such is the proximity in the midfield fight, tiny slices of fortune or otherwise can make an enormous difference.
“It changes every weekend. The Mercedes wasn’t so bad this weekend. I think we were a little quicker than them, probably throughout,” he explained.
“The Alfa Romeo was maybe quicker. He [Bottas] was off at the start, I think: quicker yesterday, maybe quicker today – just couldn’t get past George.”
The now six-time podium finisher indicated that podiums are still possible for those further back than Ferrari and Red Bull if they perform a strong weekend and ensure that they are on hand to collect points when inevitable mishaps take place out front.
“[It] doesn’t really matter, we beat two cars who are probably a second a lap quicker than us: one ended up in the wall and one ended up in the gravel, so doesn’t necessarily mean, if you have the third or fourth or fifth best car, [you can’t get a podium]” he affirmed.
“I think we just executed a great race from our side. The car was good, and I had good confidence and that’s all I needed.”
Norris’ P3 finish moves him ahead of Hamilton and up to sixth in the Drivers’ Championship.